Yes, as if you needed another post on Wikileaks and Julian Assange. If the internet had weight it would have collapsed. The whole thing is intermittently exhilarating, but on balance, unspeakably depressing. All the usual dead horses have been flogged back to life and given another run around the track, including in comment threads at a group blog which I frequent. Dead horses like:
-Unless you are have been raped in the socially approved manner, that is, jumped on by a stranger out on a dark night, your allegations of rape or sexual assault must be false, and in this case, must be some kind of deliberate “honeytrap”.
-Discussing “womens issues” like these is diverting attention from the really important things. Will women please stop spoiling everything all the time! *tosses toys out of pram*.
There are two forces at play here which I don’t trust. One is what one commenter described as the “secular canonisation” of Assange. He’s Che! He’s Ned Kelly! He’s… he’s… Jesus! The T shirts are being printed! And the quasi-biblical narrative of betrayal by the Female just go along with the whole excellent adventure.
One writer after another has tried to explain that it’s possible for someone to do useful and effective activist work and be guilty of sexual assault (not pre-empting the court case, just trying to counter the popular notion that a folk hero can’t be guilty) and that one does not necessarily negate the other.
Intelligent people should be able to hold more than one thought in their head at once. The point of this piece, once again, was NOT to speculate on whether Assange did or did not commit a crime — it’s to point out that the media narrative around this story has quickly become depressingly similar to every other media narrative around rape and alleged rape. (That is to say, ugly and victim-blaming.)
Largely, these arguments have fallen on deaf ears. Or eyes. Because Assange is a hero, he can’t possibly have done anything wrong. I’m not the only person who finds this cult of personality a big turnoff.
Living Colour – Cult Of Personality
Because – and this another thing which gives me pause – when the media says that Wikileaks is a fine piece of activism by “the left” and that any subgroup, like women, should shut up and keep quiet about anything negative, because, you know, ruining it for everyone – well, that is all of a piece with the fact that the widespread and active cyberactivist groups, 4chan and its spinoff group Anonymous, are Assange’s defenders, his cyberarmy if you will. And if you identify as feminist, 4chan are no friends of yours. Try googling “4chan” and “women”. While their leader eschews anything so crude, he is also capable, at the turn of the Twentieth century, of writing a sentence like “(For) man to do anything intelligent he has to know what’s actually going on.” The technical skill is cutting-edge, the social consciousness (and thus the will to social justice) is early last century. The massed forces of 4chan and other romantic admirers don’t have any investment in seeing women as human, at all. And Assange might be a romantic hero, but he has no actual control over an “army” of pimply-faced admirers who are prone to statements like “Rule number one of the internet is you don’t piss off 4chan” and “make me a goddamn sandwich”. As Mark B says, “Where is a truly alternative politics? It’s not that of 4Chan or Anonymous.” Or, as my dear old apple-cheeked Grandma used to say, “with friends like those, who needs enemas?”
Problem number two: We think we’re on the same side at first glance, but Wikileaks is aiming to fight top-down government power (by an attack on secrecy) – seeing horizontal layers, if you like. Feminists and anti-racists and others are fighting pervasive power which comes from privilege and which exists at all levels. Seeing vertical slices of power, you might say. (Or once you add the idea of intersectionality, it’s more venn diagrams of overlapping power systems.) Whoa, I am straying into the realm of Theory in which I am unedumacated, but more simply – what’s the outcome of this Excellent Adventure? When we talk about change, some of us don’t seem to want much change, just to unseat the people on top of them. If you know what I mean.
So, Mr Assange, I hope Geoffrey Robertson does you proud and that you do indeed get the full benefit of due process. I hope your two accusers do likewise. And I’m sorry this joy-killing feminist can’t bring herself to think of you as a superhero who cannot possibly do wrong. Women a bit older than me went all starry-eyed and handmaidenish about ultra-charismatic male activists in the 60s, and look how far it got them.